‘We wouldn’t let animals die in misery. Why should people?’: Susan Hampshire on why dying should be a choice

IWe’ve been campaigning and raising money for assisted dying for decades, but now that we have an icon like Esther Rantzen talking about it, the game has suddenly changed. My mother died in 1964 and some time afterwards I decided to join the Euthanasia Society, now called Dignity in Dying. When I was caring for my mother-in-law, she begged to leave the planet, but no one would help her. Then there was my husband Eddie (Kulukundis, theater and sports philanthropist) who had dementia. He was such a gentle man, a joy to care for for 14 years. But eighteen months before he met his maker, he said in an aggressive manner, which was quite unusual for Eddie, “I just want to die.”

I took care of my two sisters, both of whom lived well until they were 94. But the last five weeks of my sister Anne’s life were horrible because of the pain she suffered. Every few minutes she said, ‘Please help me. Why can’t they help me go now? I’m not going to get better. I have no future. I will never move again. Please.”

I believe that dying should be a choice that the individual makes. It’s what my family wanted and what I want when I go. We would not let animals die in that misery. Why should people have to face the same thing?

They have it working fine in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and in some states of America, and in other countries. Why are we so backward here that we can’t find a system that makes it safe? Some may be against it for religious reasons, in which case I completely understand. But there will be so many guidelines and safeguards that we have to follow.

Age and level of disease should be part of the criteria. I don’t believe in general euthanasia. I’m talking about people in the last five or six weeks of their lives, when they are in pain. My sister Jane was definitely in pain. She did something cruel and refused to eat. She took death into her own hands, when anyone could have been with her at that moment, comforting her and helping her on her journey.

What happens is that those with enough money can go to Switzerland, or people, like my sister, move on and maybe move to the next world alone in the middle of the night. I hope this country can show a little compassion.

As told to Harriet Gibson